Tough choices for the elderly

Age Action has warned many older people may be forced to choose between buying medicine, food, and fuel due to the effects of the budget.

In a fresh blow to the many elderly who rely on solid fuels to heat their homes, the Solid Fuel Trade Group (SFTG) has warned the extension of the carbon tax will increase the cost of coal by up to €3 per bag.

At present a 40kg bag of coal costs between €14 and €18.

Furthermore, the tax will increase the cost of peat briquettes, which currently cost about €4.25, by 90c per bale.

John Keogh of SFTG said the increase would have a significant impact on those who are already in extreme fuel poverty where solid fuel was their only option.

According to Eamon Timmins, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action, some older people are going to bed in the middle of the day or sitting on buses or in shopping centres to keep warm because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

He said the combined effects of the reduction in the value of electricity units provided under the household budget package, the trebling of the prescription charge, and the increase in the price of solid fuels would leave many in serious financial trouble.

“You are looking at a situation where people will be having to choose between food, fuel and medicines,” he said.

Mr Timmins said fuel was often more important than food for some elderly people because of the potentially lethal effects of the cold. He said many elderly people were living in older housing stock which was poor at retaining heat and so cost more to heat.

Meanwhile, SFTG has warned the extension of the carbon tax to solid fuels such as coal will mean illegal imports will rise. It said there is no robust method in place to stop untaxed product coming into the marketplace.

“The SFTG estimates that 320 jobs could be lost among its members if a robust mechanism is not put in place to ensure compliance with all legislation,” it said.

“Additionally, the Irish Hardware and Builders Merchants Association estimate that 5% of jobs in that sector could also be lost — equivalent to another 1,200 jobs.”

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